This Day in History (28-Jan-1986) – Challenger explodes

The space shuttle Challenger was one of NASA’s greatest triumphs. It was the second shuttle to reach space, in April 1983. It successfully completed nine milestone missions. Challenger was the vehicle by which several cultural firsts happened in the space shuttle program. The first American female astronautrode up on Challenger on STS-7 in June 1983.  The first African-American reached space on STS-8. On STS-41G in 1984, two women, flew on one mission for the first time, as well as the first Canadian, Marc Garneau. Other milestones Challenger marked included the first night launch and landing (STS-8) and the first operational Spacelab flight (STS-51B).

Christa McAuliffe, a 37-year-old high school social studies teacher from New Hampshire, won a competition that earned her a place among the seven-member crew of the Challenger’s tenth mission. She underwent months of shuttle training but then, beginning January 23, was forced to wait six long days as the Challenger’s launch countdown was repeatedly delayed because of weather and technical problems. Finally, on January 28, Challenger was launched at 11:38 a.m. Eastern time in front of more media attention than usual, as it was carrying the first teacher to go in space. Seventy-three seconds later, hundreds on the ground, including Christa’s family, stared in disbelief as the shuttle exploded in a forking plume of smoke and fire. Millions more watched the wrenching tragedy unfold on live television. There were no survivors.  President Ronald Reagan appointed a special commission headed by former secretary of state William Rogers and former astronaut Neil Armstrong. The investigation determined that the explosion was caused by the failure of an “O-ring” seal in one of the two solid-fuel rockets. The elastic O-ring did not respond as expected because of the cold temperature at launch time, which began a chain of events that resulted in the massive explosion.

Challenger’s explosion changed the space shuttle program in several ways. Plans to fly other civilians in space (such as journalists) were shelved for 22 years. Satellite launches were shifted from the shuttle to reusable rockets. On February 1, 2003, a second space-shuttle disaster rocked when Columbia disintegrated upon reentry of the Earth’s atmosphere. All aboard were killed including the first Indian-American astronaut and first Indian woman in space, Kalpana Chawla.

Reference:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/challenger-explodes

http://www.space.com/18084-space-shuttle-challenger.html

This Day in History (5-Oct-1997) – Dr. Kalpana Chawla became the first Indian woman to become an astronaut

Born in Karnal, India, Kalpana Chawla obtained a degree in aeronautical engineering from Punjab Engineering College before immigrating to the United States and becoming a naturalized citizen in the 1980s. She earned a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Colorado in 1988, having previously obtained her masters degree from the University of Texas. She began working at NASA’s Ames Research Center the same year, working on power-lift computational fluid dynamics.

In 1994, Chawla was selected as an astronaut candidate. After a year of training, she became a crew representative for the Astronaut Office EVA/Robotics and Computer Branches, where she worked with Robotic Situational Awareness Displays and tested software for the space shuttles. Chawla’s first opportunity to fly in space came in November 1997, aboard the space shuttle Columbia on flight STS-87. The shuttle made 252 orbits of the Earth in just over two weeks. The shuttle carried a number of experiments and observing tools on its trip, including a Spartan satellite, which Chawla deployed from the shuttle.

In 2000, Chawla was selected for her second voyage into space, serving again as a mission specialist on STS-107. The mission was delayed several times, and finally launched in 2003. Over the course of the 16-day flight, the crew completed more than 80 experiments. On the morning of Feb. 1, 2003, the space shuttle returned to Earth. At launch, a piece of insulation had broken off and damaged the thermal protection system of the shuttle’s wing, the shield that protects it from heat during re-entry. As the shuttle passed through the atmosphere, hot gas streaming into the wing caused it to break up. The unstable craft rolled and bucked, pitching the astronauts about and got depressurized, killing the crew.

Over the course of her two missions, Chawla logged 30 days, 14 hours, and 54 minutes in space. After her first launch, she said, “When you look at the stars and the galaxy, you feel that you are not just from any particular piece of land, but from the solar system.”

Reference:

http://www.indianage.com/search.php

http://www.space.com/17056-kalpana-chawla-biography.html

This Day in History (4-Oct-1957) – The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1 into space

History changed on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I. The world’s first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball (58 cm. in diameter), weighed only 83.6 kg, and took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R space race.

The story begins in 1952, when the International Council of Scientific Unions decided to establish July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958, as the International Geophysical Year (IGY) because the scientists knew that the cycles of solar activity would be at a high point then. In October 1954, the council adopted a resolution calling for artificial satellites to be launched during the IGY to map the Earth’s surface. In July 1955, USA announced plans to launch an Earth-orbiting satellite for the IGY and solicited proposals from various Government research agencies to undertake development. In September 1955, the Naval Research Laboratory’s Vanguard proposal was chosen to represent the U.S. during the IGY.

However the Sputnik launch changed everything. As a technical achievement, Sputnik caught the world’s attention and the American public off-guard. Its size was more impressive than Vanguard’s intended 3.5-pound payload. In addition, the public feared that the Soviets’ ability to launch satellites also translated into the capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from Europe to the U.S. Then the Soviets struck again; on November 3, Sputnik II was launched, carrying a much heavier payload, including a dog named Laika.

The Sputnik launch also led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In July 1958, US Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act (commonly called the “Space Act”), which created NASA as of October 1, 1958 from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and other government agencies.

 

Reference:

http://www.mapsofworld.com/on-this-day/october-4-1582-ce-pope-gregory-xiiis-calendar-becomes-official

http://history.nasa.gov/sputnik/

This Day in History (23-Aug-1966) – Lunar Orbiter 1 takes 1st photograph of Earth from Moon

Pictures of Earth from space had been taken before, by rockets in the 1940s, and satellites in the 1950s and 1960s. However, those pictures captured just parts of Earth, as opposed to a full-on view of the planet. In the summer of 1966, the United States was preparing to send the first humans to the moon. NASA needed high resolution pictures of the surface to make sure this is something they could land on and pick out landing sites. NASA could call upon off-the-shelf technology: Boeing and Eastman Kodak had previously developed a spacecraft with an onboard camera system for the Department of Defense.

The first spacecraft, Lunar Orbiter 1, left Earth on August 10, 1966. It was like a flying photography lab. The camera system itself took up at least a third of the spacecraft. The Lunar Orbiter camera contained dual lenses, taking photos at the same time. One lens took wide-angle images at medium resolution. A second lens took high-resolution images yielding details as small as 5 meters in size.  The camera had big honking reels of 70 mm film. The film would roll through, the camera would take pictures, and then move the exposed film to an automated developer. The automated film developer contained a mix of chemicals that would develop the film using a process similar to the method used by Polaroid cameras. An electron beam would then scan each developed image before transmitting the photos back to Earth using radio signals.

But at some point during the mission, NASA contemplated pointing the spacecraft’s camera at Earth. Repositioning the satellite was a high risk maneuver. But NASA decided to take the risk. So on August 23, the spacecraft successfully took a photo of an earthrise, the blue planet rising above the moon’s horizon. NASA took the image and created a poster of it which was given as gifts to everybody. Senators and congressmen would give it out as presents to constituents and visiting dignitaries.

 

Reference:

http://www.historyorb.com/day/august/23?p=2

http://www.space.com/12707-earth-photo-moon-nasa-lunar-orbiter-1-anniversary.html

This Day in History (20-Jul-1969) – Armstrong walks on moon

Since 1966 to March 1969, NASA launched Apollo 7 to Apollo 10 missions to establish possibility of human landing on the moon. On July 16, Apollo 11 took off from Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin Jr., and Michael Collins aboard. Armstrong, a 38-year-old civilian research pilot, was the commander of the mission. After traveling 240,000 miles in 76 hours, Apollo 11 entered into a lunar orbit on July 19. The next day, the lunar module Eagle, manned by Armstrong and Aldrin, separated from the command module, where Collins remained. Two hours later, the Eagle began its descent to the lunar surface, and at 4:18 p.m. the craft touched down on the southwestern edge of the Sea of Tranquility. Armstrong radioed to Mission Control in Houston, Texas, a message: “Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” Armstrong later confirmed that landing was his biggest concern, saying “the unknowns were rampant,” and “there were just a thousand things to worry about.”

At 10:39 p.m., five hours ahead of the original schedule, Armstrong opened the hatch of the lunar module. As he made his way down the lunar module’s ladder, a television camera attached to the craft recorded his progress and beamed the signal back to Earth, where hundreds of millions watched in great anticipation. At 10:56 p.m., Armstrong spoke his famous quote, “that’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” He then planted his left foot on the gray, powdery surface, took a cautious step forward, and humanity had walked on the moon. Aldrin joined him shortly, and offered a simple but powerful description of the lunar surface: “magnificent desolation.” They explored the surface for two and a half hours, collecting samples and taking photographs. They left behind an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle’s legs which reads, “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.” At 1:11 a.m. on July 21, both astronauts were back in the lunar module and the hatch was closed. The two men slept that night on the surface of the moon, and at 1:54 p.m. the Eagle began its ascent back to the command module on return journey.

 

Reference:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/armstrong-walks-on-moon

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/apollo11.html

This Day in History (11-Jul-1979) – Skylab crashes to Earth

Launched in 1973, Skylab was the world’s first successful space station. The first manned Skylab mission came two years after the Soviet Union launched Salynut 1, the world’s first space station, into orbit around the earth. Unfortunately, NASA spent far less time and energy planning how to gracefully bring the space station back to Earth at the end of its mission. Skylab carried the most varied assortment of experimental equipment ever assembled in a single spacecraft to that date. The crews of Skylab spent more than 700 hours observing the sun and brought home more than 175,000 solar pictures. They also provided important information about the biological effects of living in space for prolonged periods of time. Five years after the last Skylab mission, the space station’s orbit began to deteriorate–earlier than was anticipated–because of unexpectedly high sunspot activity. On July 11, 1979, Skylab made a spectacular return to earth, breaking up in the atmosphere and showering burning debris over the Indian Ocean and Australia. No one was injured.

All week there had been mounting speculation over where the spacecraft would come down. In India, the police in all states were put on full alert and the civil aviation department was planning to ban flights across the sub-continent during the crucial hours of re-entry. Beginning in June of 1979, as Skylab’s re-entry approached, many American newspapers jokingly proposed “Skylab insurance”. The San Francisco Examiner went one step further, offering a $10,000 prize to the first person to deliver a piece of Skylab debris to its office within 72 hours of the crash. Knowing the orbiter wasn’t coming down anywhere near the United States, the newspaper felt it was making a safe bet. In Australia, 17-year-old Stan Thornton of tiny Esperance awoke to the commotion when Skylab broke apart in the atmosphere and pelted his house with space station fragments. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a few charred bits of material from his yard, hopped on a plane without so much as a passport or suitcase and made it to the Examiner’s office before the deadline.

 

Reference:

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/iskylabi-crashes-to-earth

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/july/11/newsid_3867000/3867739.stm

http://www.history.com/news/the-day-skylab-crashed-to-earth-facts-about-the-first-u-s-space-stations-re-entry

This Day in History (29-Jun-1995) – US shuttle docks with Russian space station

NASA and the Russian space agency kicked off a new era in international space cooperation in June of 1995, when the US Space Shuttle Atlantis docked with the Russian space station Mir for the first time.  Atlantis’ mission, STS-71, was  launched on June 27 from launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and marked the 100th U.S. human space launch. Together, Atlantis and Mir became the largest combined spacecraft ever in orbit, totaling almost a half a million pounds. The US shuttle Atlantis delivered a relief crew of two cosmonauts to the Russian Mir space station, signalling a new era of space co-operation between the two former Cold War rivals.

The operation to link the craft was led by the commander of the Atlantis, Robert Gibson. Flying over the Mediterranean at 17,500mph, he lined up the Mir in his sights and with barely a shudder the two craft touched. After the safety of the spacecraft was confirmed with the pressure between them equalised, Gibson opened the hatch separating them. Propelling himself through to the Russian craft he stretched out his arm to shake hands with his counterpart. The symbolic gesture was watched live from Moscow by US Vice President Al Gore, and by the head of NASA Dan Goldin at the Russian control centre.

The crew of the US shuttle moved into the Mir for group photos, before presenting the cosmonauts with gifts of chocolate, fruit and flowers. The Russians gave the Americans gifts of bread and salt, the traditional symbols of welcome.

Mr Gibson said: “After all the training and the preparation it seems hard to believe we’re actually there but indeed we are.” The two spacecraft remained attached for few days, giving the Mir crew time to stock up on fresh water, oxygen and nitrogen. The crews carried out a range of scientific experiments. The mission saw the first American to be part of a Mir crew, NASA-1 Mir Astronaut Norman Thagard.

 

Reference:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/onthisday/hi/dates/stories/june/29/newsid_2521000/2521213.stm

https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_189.html

http://history.nasa.gov/SP-4225/mir/mir.htm